Recluse was tricked into changing will

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A wealthy recluse 'fell among thieves' and was systematically stripped of pounds 300,000 by two builders who passed themselves off as his nephews, the High Court was told yesterday.

Norman Warne, who died aged 82 in 1988, was once worth more than pounds 700,000 through his family's publishing business, Pearson and Warne, and investments.

But he had never worked, lived 'like a tramp' in a squalid house in Brighton, East Sussex, and his only passions were his toy train set and his cats, the court was told.

Kevin and Steven Dirrane, of Hove, East Sussex, were called in to repair fire damage at Mr Warne's home. But instead, the brothers passed themselves off as his nephews. Within days of meeting them, he had signed the first of two wills which left them most of his remaining estate.

Yesterday, Judge Thomas Moseley QC ruled that Mr Warne had not been of sound mind when he made the new wills. An earlier will, in which almost all of his estate was left to the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals and the Cats Protection League, was declared Mr Warne's last true testament.

Jock Craven, for the RSPCA, told the court: 'Mr Warne was a wealthy but simple old man with a child-like personality, who literally fell among thieves. They stripped him of assets worth pounds 300,000 during his lifetime and they were instrumental in the production of the two later wills.'

Mr Warne had been looked after by his mother until she died in 1958 and then by two women until they died in the 1970s. 'Thereafter, he looked after himself. He was dirty and unkempt and dressed like a tramp,' Mr Craven said.

Both the Dirrane brothers were debarred by the court from defending the RSPCA's application to have Mr Warne's earlier will declared his last true statement.